Native bluefish ($19), while it lasts, is a superb piece of fish with a nice smoked-tomato garnish, a purée of chickpeas and sage that I took for winter squash, and some grilled peppers and eggplant slices. Herb-crusted North Atlantic cod medallions ($23) are made with sweet scrod and the crumb topping adored by generations, and are garnished with fresh green beans, pilaf of wild and white rice mixed with mirepoix (tiny cubes) of vegetables, and a smear of "lobster emulsion" (orange stuff with a convincing essence of lobster flavor).
Back on turf, Berkshire pork mignons ($24) are wrapped in smoky bacon to form tasty meat cylinders. They're served with a fully cooked white-bean salad, but the smoked bacon overwhelms the flavor of the heritage-breed pork. A lean and delicious duck breast ($25) features a tart sauce and sides of sautéed greens and a mixture of brown rice and beans, in which the beans were not fully done (a common flaw in non-Hispanic kitchens). It's pasta and risotto that are supposed to be a little crunchy; dried beans should be fully softened.
The wine list is extensive, but not overly marked up on bottles. Bottles are also your assurance of freshness. The 2006 Selentein Malbec ($12/glass; $45/bottle) had lots of dusty fruit on the nose -- extra-large glassware is very helpful -- but wasn't long on the palate. This Argentine red goes well with all the meatier and tomato-based entrées. A 2005 Cakebread chardonnay ($75) was a reach out of our usual range, and I think is in a transitional phase where the nose is all green apples and the flavor is smoky oak. I suspect it was a superb California white a year ago, and will settle into a mellow, Burgundy-like excellence in another year or two. Water is served with lemon and a straw. Tea ($4) is loose leaf.
Desserts are almost all round or cylindrical, a fad getting past its sell-by date. Even so, the flavors are lovely and the spins on the familiar -- so essential to hotel dining rooms -- were quite intelligent. Boston cream whoopie pie ($8), for example, looks like a cupcake, but has the classic sponge cake, pastry cream, and chocolate frosting. Everyone now has to do a molten-chocolate cake, but North 26 S'mores ($8) add a topping of Italian meringue and homemade graham crackers on the side. Blueberry lemon torte ($8) is a delicate lemon cake with subtle blueberry mousse in a cylinder. The sauce of the same-shaped bourbon-peach cheesecake ($8) reads as caramelized peaches.
My favorite dessert was strawberry rhubarb croustade ($8), thanks to its fine pastry that's folded up into a pouch and the tangy buttermilk ice cream. The fresh berry basket ($8), obviously the dieter's option, does well with blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries, in a basket made of a tuile cookie. Want to cheat-- It comes with homemade ice cream -- unless you say no.
North 26's dining rooms are on the ground floor of the Millennium Bostonian Hotel and look out at Faneuil Hall. If you really want to be in the middle of the action, for the next five or six weeks there's also outdoor seating. Inside, the décor is quieter, and the background music runs to Norah Jones and acid jazz. Service was good on a busy Friday night. If you get there early, there are lots of swell books in the hotel lobby.
Robert Nadeau can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.